Saturday, January 17, 2004

Back at the bike school…
I know I said that we would be working on the letter to the court today, but I really wanted to talk about my Friday afternoon at the bike school. I wrote last week about our little “prasnik” (party) and I thought it worth doing to follow up. Though do check out for the text of the appeal. You can find the court’s justification by scrolling down a few days…
Anyway, I don’t want to make it sound like Fridays are a ritual for us. This has never been the case. Rather, in the past, I have just wandered over from time to time when there was something to talk about or other. Last Friday was like that and I never probably would have gone there yesterday were it not for a phone call I had gotten last Monday night. The phone call was from Valera, a bike dealer we know in Brest. Valera has been an acquaintance of Kolia’s for several years and deals specifically in low-end mountain bikes there. As you know, I have been wanting to make a bike shop here since before all of this mess started, and this idea has never left either me or the people I was supposed to do business with. The problem is of course money, which none of us has enough of to begin the trade. At any rate, I had spoken to Valera in Brest about a month ago, before Christmas and tried to get him to give us a few bikes to sell in Pinsk. The idea was at least that we could put a few Mountain bikes in there, let people know that we were serious about doing bike a bike business, and perhaps lay the seeds for a shop in the spring, should something good happen and some money came our way. Unfortunately, he had not shown up for the agreed upon meeting with us then, and we had not spoken to him since. His call on Monday then, was a bit of a shock. He said to me that he wanted to come and talk to us and that his missing the last meeting was a mistake. All right, I said, come on Friday. We usually have a party then, and everyone will be there.
So this was the pretence that found me at the bike school yesterday. I showed up around noon and found Kolia at work on a bike that was sitting up on a stand near the workbench. Apparently no one had passed the message along to him that we would be talking to Valara this day. The news made him very happy. Kolia is very conscious of his image you know and Valara’s not showing up for the last meeting hurt. I have written a few times about Kolia and how easily he is hurt. However I think that I have failed to mention that he was at one time cycling champion. He was the champion of Belarus in 1984 or 86, I think, and in one discipline, he claims to have been the champion of the whole USSR. I have seen his pictures of races he was in from Europe and North Africa. He is a handsome man and a real very much a real bicyclist.
We sat around talking nonsense for a while as he tried to figure out a solution to his project at hand. Valera was not showing up, and this was making some tension. I had brought along two bottles of Vodka and offered that we should have a glass together. I offered a glass of some Minsk vodka. I needed to explain that I was unable to find local vodka, all of the local variety interestingly absent for payday, which was yesterday. My theory is, that because people drink their own locally made vodka as a point of pride, not having it available on payday might very well act a deterrent for drinking away all ones money. I had this idea confirmed later in the party when none of the married men who joined us would drink at all on payday. Also, not a bad idea.
But after our 100 grams, I felt compelled to have a closer look at the bike on the stand. Kolia told me that he was preparing the bike for a younger rider. The handlebars were too high and he was trying the lower them so that the rider would be in a more sport-like riding position. He had found four or five forks, none of which were appropriate for the bike because the length of the stem was too long for the headset. The bike itself was perhaps 30 years old, cottered cranks, lugged steel tubing, ancient spin on six speed rear hub. I knew that the normal was to perform this operation was simply to cut down the fork to what ever length you need, and then simply tap new threads. However, the tap for a one-inch head tube, an absolute staple for any bike shop- one inch head tubes and screw on head sets being the norm- for about the last 90 years wasn’t here. It had probably been lost or stolen some time in the last 12 years and the cost of replacing the five to eight dollar part simply didn’t exist in the budget. That budget, excepting for the $50 or $60 a month paid to the trainers is exactly nothing.
So not being able to re-manufacture the fork, I suggested that we shim it from the bottom. I found a green fork whose threads were a bit longer than the rest, and showed that if we simply add a centimeter and a half from the bottom, the kid has a bike. The two problems with this though, were that there of course were no one-inch shims, also bike shop staples, and no tool to accurately remove the crown race. You can tap the race out, using a hammer and a screwdriver, but it always loses its perfectly round shape if you do. And of course, if it is not round, it doesn’t really do its job of allowing the front wheel to turn smoothly. The solution to this problem was to mount as shims two more old races that we found amongst the saved junk, the second of which would act at the new crown. Kolia suggested that it would be better if we put some rubber between the races, but we had no gaskets or even any silicone. We finally decided that some tire patch cement might contain enough rubber to buffer the loose metal to metal connections.
So, we assembled this rather monstrous fork/head-tube combination and then attempted to drop in the ball bearings. We of course have no new ball bearings. For that matter, we don’t even have any cages to put them in if we did. Kolia first had to go through the junk box looking or used balls that didn’t look too cracked, chipped or oval, and then grease the race and drop in the balls one at a time by hand.
It bicycle insanity. It was a nightmare. And in the end, our Frankenstein head set construction was crunchy and not strong. Kolia pointed out that it would work tough, for a practice bike. It would be enough…
I have been coming to this same shop since I first went riding with the kids from the bike school. When I had money, I put $100 into some new parts, about a year ago, but I have not been able to do the same since. Kolia asked if I wanted the job of being the mechanic. I told him that I did, but it would be impossible because the cost of my visa alone would be half a year’s salary.
But I would do it you know. It was the only “job” I ever wanted here. I would do it for the civic pride; helping the local team get some medals and put a few of our brightest up on the podium. Hell, if I could just get the box of stuff I left in New York out here, I would triple the existing shop.
Valera didn’t show up again and I went home early. My hands smelled a little of grease and it was nice to have them remember for a minute the feel of a bike. I was in love with the job at one time. It was that I was in love with it I suppose that I wanted so much to do it here. I with in love with here too then. Now I don’t know. I have been held back from doing what I said I would do for so long, I feel as though it has all changed, all gone away along with my credit and my face. I can’t even really ride any more because my own sport wheels collapsed long ago, and the best replacement I could make for what money I had was a set of coaster-brake, 26 inch wheels that are too slow to even think of road riding with. Maybe that has something to do with it too. Riding does something to a man’s heart. To his life, really. Makes it better, I have always found. Maybe that was what I was doing here. Maybe that’s what Kolia was doing way back when. God, it’s great to have a really cool bike to go and ride on…. I mean, I think that this is true. I believe it is true, but… I guess I don’t really remember.

Today is January 17th. Happy 47th anniversary mom and dad.